Sunday, September 02, 2007

DMN again calls for moratorium on executions in Texas

Just days after Texas Gov. Rick Perry surprisingly commuted the sentence of Kenneth Foster (who had been sentenced to death row for taking part in a fatal crime but did not personally take a life, under what is known as the "law of parties"), the conservative Dallas Morning News has renewed their call for a moratorium on the death penalty in this state:
It is past time for them to confront the growing list of concerns about the liberal use of the executioner's chamber. Legislative leaders should start the process by ordering Senate and House committees to study capital justice in Texas and doubts about its fairness.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick will be issuing long lists of "interim studies" to prepare the Legislature for the 2009 session. It would be a disservice to the public to omit examination of the grim business of sending people to their deaths.

This newspaper recently called for an end to capital punishment because of the distinct and unacceptable possibility of deadly error. We know that leaders in Austin are not deaf and blind to evidence of miscarriage of justice. We call on them to act accordingly.
The editorial also proposes ending the "law of parties" as applied to capital punishment, establishing a state innocence commission that includes members of the law-enforcement and legal communities to examine weaknesses in the justice system and whose findings could be used to set new standards for law enforcement, and expanding the governor's authority in murder cases (currently, the governor can only act upon a recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Paroles). But why a moratorium on executions?
This has been our call for some time. Considering the sobering questions that have been raised across the state, it is appropriate for lawmakers to give themselves time to take a fresh look at capital punishment.

We're not naive about the Legislature's willingness to take on the subject, since it would be politically costly to look "soft on crime." We're looking for political courage, though. We're looking for leadership that's unafraid to call for debate and thoughtful review on life-and-death issues.

•Texas has executed 402 people since capital punishment was reinstated nationally 21 years ago. That is four times the number of the second-most-active state, Virginia.

•Texas' per capita execution rate is second only to Oklahoma's.

•374 people are now waiting on death row in Texas, including 364 men in Livingston and 10 women in Gatesville

•22 men have been executed this year; five more are scheduled to die in September

Foster's near-execution and the fact that a conservative Republican governor even thought it inappropriate serves to illustrate the problems with our use of the death penalty in Texas. The DMN editorial's suggestions are wise. Hopefully, the legislature will listen next session.

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